By Jessica Melley
LaShawn Robinson has four children in the Hartford school system and was one of the first parents to sign up for the Hartford Parent University. She says, “This program is so beneficial, after attending a workshop, I got a feeling that I am truly more involved in my children’s education.” She is one of 120 parents who are taking Saturday morning classes to learn how to better help their child get through school.
CTLatinoNews.com first reported on the Hartford Parent University program last summer – one of two in the state. (The other is in New Haven.) But while its feisty organizers began offering classes this past fall, and parents are learning valuable skills, funding has been slow to develop.
Hartford resident Millie Arciniegas, a long-time parent advocate, is the director of the program, which started this year with only $25,000. In order to fully staff the program to expand it so it can be offered to more parents, the group needs an additional $125,000. She says, “We planned for two years to start this parent university, and there was no more time to waste with the future of our children waiting for funding. We figured if we could show how much parents want this type of program, and how cost effective this type of training is, we might attract more funding.
HPU is designed to teach Hartford parents how to navigate the school system, by providing them with specific tools to help their child academically. Each parent must attend 10 sessions; workshops include learning skills on how to monitor your child’s academic progress, the mechanics of how your child’s ability is assessed and the questions parents should ask the teacher about that. They also learn how to help their children with reading skills and strategies for taking the Connecticut Mastery Tests and college readiness
The $25,000 raised to date has come from private funding. Requests have been made to the State Department of Education, and other sources but no dollars have come forth yet. Arciniegas points out the legislature and governor focused on Educational Reform last session and she says,” What we are doing is grassroots educational reform.”
The education reform legislation passed last year includes the establishment of a pilot parent university that would be locally designed and conceived. A call to the state Department of Education by CtLatinonews.com was not returned before this article was published.
Arciniegas says, “I hope that because the legislature and governor have had a focus on education reform, they see the see the value of what we are doing and see funding us as yet another good investment in our children’s future.”
New Level to Parent Involvement
Arciniegas and other parents working on HPU also started the Hartford Parent’s Organization, made up of representatives from every school in the city. They first pushed for legislation that gives parents more of a say in making over failing schools, she said.
Now through the Hartford Parent University, they have taken parent involvement to a new level. It is modeled after a successful Boston program, but in Hartford parents are trained to lead the workshops. “We knew we needed to be more independent to get more of a buy-in from parents. This is a place of their own where they can teach each other,” Arciniegas said.
Two of the facilitators are Drupatti Phulbas and Jane Russell. They found the program so helpful they decided to help. Phulbas, who worked as an assistant in classrooms in the school district and quickly saw that parent involvement was key to student’s future success, also started a PTO there. She says, “Informing parents through the programs empowers them, to be an advocate for their children and that will benefit the child’s education
Russell adds, “One of the most important seminars that HPU offers specializes in special education. Special education has always been a hot-button issue and it its finally getting the attention and response needed to progress the programs.”
Russell wants parents not be anxious in asking their children’s educators questions. Russell says, “Parents need to feel comfortable going into their child’s school and expressing concerns or asking questions to the administrators.” She adds parents have the right to question their children’s education and make sure they are getting the proper attention and experiences to help them succeed. Russell also encourages parents to join these seminars to network for their children.
HPU organizers say it serves as a “one stop center” for parents to be aware of existing and new programs offered in the Hartford community that provides parents family learning opportunities.
If an adult needs a GED, they will help them get it. The workshops are offered in November, January and May in nine sites around the city to make them more accessible. They are free and childcare is offered.
For more information: http://www.hartfordparentuniversity.org/.